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 The National Equine Health Survey revealed last year that up to 50% of the horse population are either overweight or obese, with a lot of owners unable to recognise when their furry companion was carrying too much extra weight.

 
It is important to keep our four legged friends at an appropriate weight, as being overweight can have serious health implications, including:
 
● Increased risk of endocrine disorders, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)
● Predisposition to laminitis
● Increased risk of certain types of colic
● Increased likelihood of injury, such as tendon/ligament damage, resulting in unnecessary preventable costs to the owner!
 
We recommend regularly assessing your horse's weight, at the minimum twice yearly; ideally when coming out of and going into winter, so roughly in March and October time. There are three main ways to do this:
 
● Using a weigh tape
● Use of electronic scales
● Body condition scoring
 
Using a weigh tape is an easy and cheap way for people to assess their horse's weight, it is useful as a rough guide, but is subject to some variation when compared to electronic scales.
 
Electronic scales are the best way to monitor our four legged companions; it is an objective and quantifiable way to measure weight, allowing us to monitor weight fluctuations, correctly dose for treatments (such as worming) and target our feeding accurately. However, scales don't indicate the overall condition score of the horse, so should be used in conjunction with assessing body fat. 
 
We run regular weight clinics using our electronic scales; this service is free to our clients when five or more horses are weighed at any one time. For non-clients we charge £5 per horse, with the proceeds going to charity. 
 
Body Condition Scoring (BCS) has some degree of subjectivity and takes a little bit of practice to improve skill; it relies on both visual assessment of the neck, body and rump, and also uses manual examination of these areas. It is important to assess all three areas, rather than just relying on one, as there is variation between individuals as to where they do put on weight. BCS uses  a scale of 1-5  to assess the individual, with 1 being severely underweight and 5 being severely overweight. 
 
Ideally, stand the horse square and on a flat surface before visually assessing them; look at the neck, body and rump, making sure to stand both behind and to the side of the horse. Then, feel along the top of the neck, if it wobbles then it is fat, if it is firm then it is muscle; run your hand down from the neck to the shoulder, assessing if there are any fat pads behind the shoulder – native types are prone to having weight here! Feel along the spine and down over the ribs – it should be easy to feel the ribs without pressing! Look at your horse from behind (carefully!) – the rump should have a slight rounded curve, but not be bulging – make sure to feel around the base of the tail for fat pads too.
 
 
This Chart Illustrates Visually The Different Shapes For Each Body Score
 
In conclusion, it is important to regularly assess your horse's weight, ideally with electronic scales, although, if a tape is your only means of measuring, then so long as you follow your own protocol for taking the measurement then whilst the weight may not be absolutely correct, the general trend of weight loss/gain is a very useful tool. Do try to practice body condition scoring – practice makes perfect!
 
Article by Swanspool Farm & Equine Vets